Episode Five - The Bloodport Market - Number One in selection and customer mortality.
The sun was starting to come up when we reached the Widow Shorey's shop again. I loitered across the street while Riordan went and got some travel rations and new boots. Mine were fine, or at least I wasn't likely to get another pair without waiting several days for them to be made special to fit my feet.
I confess, I was lost in a fantasy of the road, nothing but wide open space for days around us, stopping for lunch, Riordan taking a nap, me alone with Minerva, staring down her top as she talked, reaching out and touching those perfect, round breasts...
"Osgun. Thank you so much for coming. You'll never know what a kindness this is to me." I actually jumped as Minerva's voice seemed to materialize out of my fantasy. Then jerked my arm away in horror as she reached out and clasped her hands around it. She looked kind of hurt for a second, but I was too busy worrying about whether or not I had been embarrassing myself. Maybe this was a bad idea. This was twice now she had touched me. I made up my mind then and there to be nicer to Riordan. He was a piece of crap, but I was suddenly glad for the chaperone.
"Yeah," I looked anywhere but her face. She was particularly lovely this morning, shadows under her eyes from lack of sleep and hair slightly rumpled. Made me think& but that wasn't a good idea, so I stopped thinking right there. "Your shoes okay?"
She frowned a bit, looking down at her shoes. I used the opportunity to sneak a peek at her and was bitterly disappointed to see that she was wearing a heavy cloak that covered her from neck to ankle. Well, what did I expect? That was for the best anyway. Ah, why couldn't we have done this in the heat of summer? "Oh, you mean for travel?" she asked, then answered without waiting for me to nod. "Yes, these boots should be fine." She shifted a bundle she had under one arm and eyed the luggage I was carrying. "I can't help but notice you have an extra pack, though..."
"Oh. Yeah, it's for you." I unslung it and handed it to her. "You can put your stuff in it. I'll, uh, I'll carry it for you."
"Thank you, but that's quite all right. You have inconvenienced yourself for me enough as it is. I can carry my own pack."
"I don't mind," I protested, watching her tuck her belongings into the pack and fretting about whether or not it would be too heavy for her.
She straightened up and gave me a warm smile that made me forget about last night's sleet turning to ice on the ground and numbing my fingers and toes. "I'll make you a deal. If I start to get too tired later, I'll let you carry it then."
"Huh uh," I disagreed, surprising her. "Later it's gonna be your turn to carry all the packs. Me and Danny already called first and second dibs." It was a stupid joke, but her face broke in a slow smile that ended in a laugh. I had just realized I had a dippy answering grin on my face when Riordan walked up.
"Okay, people, I got the... are you sick, Ozzie?" he peered at me. I got rid of the grin. He shook his head and went back to what he was saying. "I got us each two weeks worth of food. I don't know if it will be enough to feed you, Osgun, but I figure you'll be dead in three days from ale deprivation anyway."
Oh, shit. I hadn't thought of that. "I can carry a keg."
"Not and fight, you can't. You'll live. For a few days at least. Now, we'll stock up on water at the well by the city gates. I'm sure there're inns and towns and stuff between here and Waymeet, so we should be fine. You gonna be good to walk, miss, or you want we should get a donkey?"
"Donkey could carry a keg of ale," I pointed out, but they weren't hearing it.
"I would prefer to walk. We will be attempting to travel with a caravan, yes?"
"I guess so," Riordan shrugged.
"Then if I get overtaxed, perhaps I will be able to ride with them."
"Well, all right." We were gradually starting to move down the street. "Now, next question is, do we really want to spend all day and who knows how long going from caravan to caravan, trying to find a good one to hook up with? Or do we want to get a head start and see what we can come up with later or in Waymeet?"
"I can spare a day to seek a caravan," Minerva told him. Walking in the cold air was bringing a pleasant blush to her cheeks.
"But that's not what you really want to do."
"No, I would be fine with that."
Riordan gave her a patient look. "No, you wouldn't. You'll feel much more comfortable looking around in Waymeet."
"Work with me here, miss. This is not pure charity on our part, whatever the big lug might have grunted to you."
Minerva snuck me a slightly wide-eyed look, to which I responded with a shrug. I had told her I needed to leave town, too. "So you will be coming along as well, master...?"
"Seawolf. Riordan Seawolf, at your service." He bowed gallantly, complete with sweeping aside the corner of his cloak with a flourish and taking her hand to kiss it. I looked with faint envy. I wondered if he took it for granted, being able to touch women and look at them and talk to them without getting dark looks and ugly muttering. It didn't upset me too much, though. Minerva was a lady. She deserved to be treated with that kind of respect. "And you, I gather, are the fair Minerva. Hereto forward to be known on the road as Minerva Seawolf, my lovely sister, so long as it pleases you."
"Oh." She seemed somewhat surprised, but pleased. "Thank you very much. That will be a great kindness. And you will be traveling as far as Waymeet?"
"We have not yet decided a final destination, miss."
Her brown eyes glanced my way briefly at that, and I felt compelled to add, "Don't worry. I'll make sure you get to where you're going, safely." Her expression at that was a little odd, but I was distracted by Riordan shooting me a glare.
"By the way, just where is it you're headed, miss?"
"West," Minerva murmured. "Past Waymeet, I'm afraid. But we can find a suitable caravan there, can we not? I'm sure it will all work out."
"Just so," Riordan agreed smoothly.
The walk through the city was interesting to me, tired though I was. I rarely ventured away from the docks. It was rather novel to me to see the amazing variety of shops and street performers, merchants and rich people. The streets were all mud and ice from last night's sleet. First thing in the morning is both the best and the worst time to be walking for smells. All the bakers are pulling fresh loaves out of their ovens, which is heavenly, but everyone is tossing their chamber pots out the upper windows from the course of the night, which is unpleasant to say the least. Is it any worse than at noon, when the sun has warmed up the sewage and the garbage and the horseshit, fish guts whatever else have you? Probably not. Bread smelled good.
So many colorful dresses, ornate flagons, gold plates, huge chamber pots with fancy designs and dried flowers sticking out of them, jewelry, rugs softer than underclothes, tapestries with whole histories depicted on them, more varieties of sweets than I thought could exist in the world, every sort of beast that ran, flew or swam butchered and ready to be cooked... I found myself asking Riordan, "Do people really need all this shit? Where would a person wear silly little shoes like that?"
"Oh, Osgun, my son, my son." Riordan shook his head. "Stick with me, and I shall enlighten you as to the sins and the pleasures of the coin. There is more to life to purchase than mugs of ale."
Yeah, like breakfast. All I had since noon yesterday was a cup of soup.
"Everything in moderation," Minerva commented with a faintly concerned look.
"Relax, miss. All the silk slippers I could show our friend would not sway him away from his humble mug of ale. I sense simple tastes about our silent friend."
Hmm. I gave Riordan a bit of a dark look. That was kind of flowery talk. There was treating Minerva with courtesy and then there was trying to impress her. "How about you find me a baker with some humble ale flavor meat pies and a loaf of bread, smartass?"
Riordan hmphed at me. "Well, if it will improve your mood."
By midmorning, we had reached the city gates. None of the crowded buildings and narrow streets of the city here -- it was one vast open area, crammed with vendors in tents, wagons, walking about with their wares pinned to their cloaks or carried in boxes strapped to them, caravans, travelers, visitors, shoppers, soldiers, sight seers, constabulary, beggars, mercenaries, urchins and vagrants. Live stock in flocks, crates and strings added to the uproar. Somewhere in the middle of all this was the great well at the gates.
"Stay close, miss. Hate to lose you in this. There are slavers out here."
"You too, Ozzie. Hold on to my sleeve if you want."
"Kiss my ass."
It was Minerva catching the corner of my sleeve, though, that kept me from getting lost as we followed Riordan through the maze of people. There were foreigners from all over here, as well. The narrow-eyed fighting priest people from the mountains to the south, who were said to live with dragons. Pale skinned knights from up north in their metal armor, clanking about like machines with their massive horses. I saw some of the fey folk from up north with them, eerie creatures like lovely fragile versions of humans, with large, disdainful eyes. Darkskinned wild men sold exotic feathers and hides. What I thought was a man on a horse was actually a... I elbowed Riordan. "Danny, what's that?"
"Shh! Don't point! That's a centaur. He'll kick your lungs through your chest."
A centaur! He looked like he was pointing things out to a human about the string of horses they were considering. But there was more! There were merchant sailors dressed in their finest colored silks, selling wares from the islands that I rarely saw unless a crate slipped and broke open: corals, pearls, shells, beautiful jewelry fashioned by merfolk (I had seen one or two before, but never close up - they never swam into our bay, as fouled as it was with sewage and refuse). There were the dark eyed, robed people from the far west selling perfumes, silks and probably contraband magic items, for they were an evil people who consorted with demons and made magic openly and... something about dead people... "Hey, Danny, what do the blanket guys do with dead people that makes them so bad again?"
"Shh!!!" Riordan actually smacked me about the rib cage this time. "Those are robes, not blankets, and they worship dead people and live with demons, so don't piss them off!"
"Actually, it's the other way around. They worship the demons that in death they might live forever." Minerva murmured. "And the robes protect from heat as well as ensure virtue."
"Thanks," I said and went back to gaping. There was a group of armored men selling cages of strange creatures. Wolves, huge sleek spotted cats the size of a grown man, even bigger cats with stripes, short smelly people with faces uglier than mine in crude clothing, who jumped up and down and shouted heavily accented obscenities and made rude gestures even I had never seen before... "Halflings!"
Riordan cut off whatever he had been about to say to Minerva to grab my pointing finger and drag it to aim harmlessly at the ground. "Goblins!" he grated. "Gods of fish heads and dock whores, Osgun, no pointing, no staring, no talking!"
"Goblins?" I looked back over my shoulder at the little people in the cages. One of them noticed me looking and waggled tiny little genitals at me in defiance. I guffawed, then asked, "Like the kind of goblin you find in your nose?"
"Perhaps," Minerva suggested, "Osgun and I should find a tea vendor with a nice tent we can sit inside to wait for you, master Seawolf."
"Your wisdom exceeds even your beauty, miss. Take this," he put a few coins in her hand, "and see if you can get him to eat while you are there. The busier his mouth is, the safer we are."Next week: "The joys of distant relations" or "Blood - and skulls - are thicker than water" or